Thursday, November 29, 2007

Baby Steps

When this evening rolls around we will have been home for three weeks. So much has happened, it seems impossible to capture it all in my head let alone on a blog.

Overall, Island Boy is becoming increasingly comfortable meeting new people and experiencing new things here at home. He is certainly less comfortable when away from our home, but he seems to be getting better with that, too, as long as Mommy and Daddy are with him.

We've tried to take baby steps with things like introducing Island Boy to new people, spending time away from home and the like, but with Thanksgiving in the middle of things, we have instead gone over the top in the other direction. Thanksgiving weekend gave us the opportunity to spend time with family and friends from both in and out of town. On Saturday we had a house full of toddlers ranging from 2-4 years old and Island Boy had a great time rolling with the "Big Boys" (and one "Big Girl"). He wanted to do everything the big kids did and the next day he demanded to walk (with our help) much more than usual and for what seemed like all day long, wanted to ride the scooter (but his legs aren't long enough so we need to help with that, too) and generally wanted to act like a Big Boy. He was definitely having fun and so were we.

The weekend was also a big step for Mommy - it was the first time I have spent even a minute away from baby since Pick Up Day. Those few hours were overdue and glorious.

We also enjoyed our first dinner over at a friend's house (and we're pretty sure we might even get invited over to said friend's house again ;-) and had our first play date and trip to the zoo! (I am embarrassed to admit it was also my first trip to the LA Zoo.) We had a good time, but mostly because it was an outing. I'm not sure Island Boy appreciated the cuddly-looking koalas and the adorable giraffe baby as much as Mommy did!

Of course, we've paid for all of the activity and for the parade of people. Island Boy always seems a little unsettled after any flurry of activity. (During the flurry of activity, all often appears well, but we soon learn otherwise!) This time, he was bored and grumpy for a few days as our lives returned to "normal" (whatever that is). Today he seems to be cheerier once again. We're keeping our fingers crossed that the good mood continues.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mommy Brain

I had heard of "Mommy Brain" before and figured it had something to do with post-delivery hormones. Apparently, it is not hormone related and I have a very bad case of it!

What is Mommy Brain? It is a condition brought on by the onset of children. It impacts a mother's ability to hear anything as her ears become finely tuned and specialized to hear only the cry of a baby (or to tune it and everything else out when absolutely necessary for survival). It is destructive to both short and long-term memory as all of her brain's processing power is dedicated instead to the particulars of creating a safe, nurturing, yet stimulating environment for a developing child to thrive in. It also severely limits a mother's speech as it becomes impossible for her to complete any single thought, let alone articulate it.

In short, you know you have "Mommy Brain" if you cannot complete what was I saying??

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Travel Tips

This post is about traveling to Taiwan to bring your child home, but it will include some general travel tips as well, so even if you're not planning to bring your child home from Taiwan, feel free to read on...

Don't overpack. Seriously. Overpacking is almost impossible NOT to do, but try. You'll be so glad you don't have extra bags or weight to juggle. (Note: You won't need any dressy clothes for this trip. You want to look decent, but you don't need a suit or even a dress. That means you can leave your fancy shoes at home, too. Bring shoes that are comfortable to walk in. Two pairs each should be more than enough!)

If you are planning to bring home souvenirs, bring an extra duffle - one that folds up nicely until it is needed. This is much better than trying to cram anything you buy into a suitcase that is already fairly full (as all suitcases are for some mysterious reason whenever anyone travels).

Learn at least two words of Mandarin (or the foreign language of any country you travel to):
Hello -----> Ni hao (pronounced knee-how)
Thank you -----> Xie xie (pronounced sheyay-sheyay)
You'd be surprised how many people don't bother to learn these 2 words and what a warm reaction you will get for attempting them - in any country.

Take a town car to/from the airport in Taipei. You can negotiate the rate to be very close to the rate of a cab and it is soooo much nicer - particularly when you have baby with you on the return. Your hotel can set this up for you or you can do it yourself when you arrive in Taipei. After you pick up your luggage, go to the counter under the "Hotels" sign. They'll help you out.

Purchase individual travel packets of formula. We used these to mix formula (along with bottled water) in restaurants, on trains and on planes. It is soooo much easier than trying to get the little scooper from the tin into the little bottle while in a moving vessel of any type - I can barely manage that at home!

Bring a soft cuddly toy or two (you never know which one he'll like) for your baby to snuggle with when you bring him back to the hotel. It will help the transition far beyond your time in hotels. Daddy picked out a silly plush doggie puppet to bring along and our Island Boy fell instantly in love with him in Taiwan and has slept with him every night since. It's like magic when we give him this little toy - his face lights up like Rockafeller Center. Beautiful.

We stayed at the Howard when we returned to Taipei with baby. Although we didn't love the hotel, it is very nice and walking distance to AIT (where we needed to be two days in a row to get Island Boy's travel documents), so that makes it the right choice. If you stay there, we recommend asking for the Rosewood Suites. You will have your own check-in area and lounge and the little bit of extra room is nice for the crib. They also treat you to rubber duckies - perhaps the best part of the stay (other than the proximity to AIT). Another hotel which we loved is the Westin (where we stayed prior to pickup), but you will need to hop on the subway or grab a very quick cab to get to AIT and that can be a hassle with baby.

We stayed at the Landis in Tainan and LOVED it. It is a beautiful hotel with excellent service and is situated next to a very high-end shopping center that has everything you need, including a food court in the basement. When we requested a crib, they also sent us a baby bathtub and step stool. I just can't say enough good things about this hotel!

While in Taiwan (or anywhere), eat like the locals. That doesn't mean you should find all the weirdest foods and eat them. It means check out what the locals are eating when you go to the night market (look for the longest lines!) or a restaurant, and try it!! It's going to be good even if it isn't what you can find at home (and isn't that the point of experiencing other cultures??).

Plan to spend several hours for pick up. While there is no requirement that you stay a certain amount of time, the staff has a wealth of information about your child and they are really interested in sharing it with you. Besides, your little child just met you, so the extra time can make for a more gentle transition for him, too. Plan to spend the night in Tainan if you can. You don't want to have to be worrying about rushing from pick up to the train station instead of whether or not baby needs food or a change. Relax! Tainan is a beautiful city with amazing food, so enjoy it!

We were given a tin of "Snow" brand formula, which we used up on our final day in Taiwan. We had no trouble switching (we did "test" our travel packets of Similac Advanced on Island Boy to make sure he would do ok with it the day before we got on the plane). We have tried a few other formulas since being home and all have been fine (although Island Boy was not fond of the soy-based mix we tried).

We brought 2 bottles with us and used them almost exclusively even though we were given one at pickup. Island Boy had no difficulty making the transition and the VentAire bottles we brought worked a lot better than the one they gave us. (Don't forget to make sure the nipples are Stage 2.)

Bring a Baby Bjorn and allow plenty of time to put baby in it in advance of your wanting to depart from your pickup appointment...just to see how he does. Island Boy loved his and relaxed enough to fall asleep whenever we walked anywhere with him in it (facing us - if we wanted him to remain alert, we would face him out and he enjoyed that too). He did get fussy (and still does) if we stand still for too long, but who doesn't?? We credit the Baby Bjorn for helping us all to get some sleep the first few nights, for making it easy to get around Taiwan and for making the transition to being strapped in to a car seat easier. Hubby and I both used it and it is easy to switch back and forth.

Plan to get sick. If you don't, you'll be pleasantly surprised, but our little guy got the sniffles shortly after pick up and we had a very bad case of them for the first week and a half home.

Try to freeze some food for yourselves before you leave or have someone stock your fridge with a week's worth of meals and some fresh fruit and produce for you just prior to you returning home. If you are sick for your first few days home (or even if you aren't), it's tough to get the hang of recovering from jet lag, taking care of a new baby and finding time to feed yourselves a decent meal (let alone three meals a day).

Finally, the most important thing to remember on this trip or any other is to have a sense of humor no matter what happens (assuming it is not life-threatening). Travel can be stressful if you let it, so remember that no matter how tired you are or no matter how difficult someone you are dealing with seems or no matter how bad it gets, at a minimum you will have a good story to tell. Above all, HAVE FUN!! :-)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Going Bananas

While we were expecting, I ate a lot of bananas. The bananas in Vietnam and Cambodia aren't like the bananas here. There are lots of varieties that we don't get here and they are all DELICIOUS!! I ate a LOT of bananas while we were expecting.

So, we weren't surprised to find our little Island Boy devouring a banana even when he wasn't interested in any other food. We've heard that babies like the foods their Mommies ate while they were expecting. :-)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Enjoy each voice, each smile, the colors of the food, the tastes...get outside and smell the fresh air. Take it all in and have a very very Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Two Weeks and a Lifetime to Go

It's difficult to believe it was two weeks ago that we picked up our little Island Boy. It seems like such a very long time ago. He's been adjusting surprisingly well. We're very proud of him and very happy to see him smiling so often.

When we met him, he was very quiet - like a computer processing a ton of information. It took him a while to take everything in, but he soon had a very big smile for Mommy & Daddy. Since he's been home, he has big smiles for us every day (although not all day, every day!) and has demonstrated all of his little 9 month old skills including cruising, transferring objects from one hand to the other and using the "pincer" grip. In addition, he's amazed us with his curiosity and with a few surprises (which you will be hearing more about in a later post). The boy also has some mad climbing skills!

He's still far more interested in the refrigerator, our shoes, every technology item in the house (and there are plenty of those) and anything made of paper that Mommy & Daddy are reading or might want to read than his own toys.

He is still sleeping through the night - a fabulous 12 hours worth if we let him - and still loves his bath. He's a challenge to feed, primarily because he wants to do it all himself and isn't quite skillful or speedy enough to get enough food in entirely on his own yet (although he does manage to get a spoon of a variety of thick purees into his mouth on his own, so we're certain it won't be long). We're feeding him tiny baby-sized bits or purees of whatever we're eating. Although the pediatrician suggested trying a new food every three days or so, he's been getting perhaps 3 new foods a day. As long as he's happy, we're happy! So far he's indicated a clear preference for cavalo nero (black kale) and peas, but he's been willing to try anything he can get his little hands on.

Alas, all is not paradise here. Our little angel does let us know when he requires a basic need to be met. Most of the time we figure it out before a meltdown occurs. When we don't, we all pay for it. Meltdowns are no fun. Trust me.

Although baby is getting more sleep, Mommy & Daddy have been getting less (we're busy catching up on work and housework after Island Boy goes to bed). Mommy & Daddy have also been getting less to eat despite spending more time at the table. Funny how that works!

All in all it's amazing to think of all that's transpired in the last fourteen days. And this is just the beginning...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Wonders of the World

Island Boy is reintroducing us to the wonders of the world and we don't even need to travel to Cambodia (or elsewhere) to experience them.

When was the last time you were mesmerized by the way the sunlight moved across the kitchen floor?

The last time you spent minutes simply exploring the way leaves on a tree reacted to your touch?

Do you remember what it was like to feel grass under your feet for the first time?

Sand through your fingers?

Do you still giggle because you find it funny that your Mom and Dad sang a song to you (for the 1st or the 32nd time in a row)?

Have you ever (since you can remember) experienced the joy of sitting in the bathtub and splashing just for the sake of splashing?

Take five minutes (or five hours!) to wonder at your world (today and every day). I can think of nothing better.

Meeting Mister Dog

We had our first interaction with a real live dog yesterday. It was very exciting for Island Boy. I was a bit concerned the little guy might get whiplash as I held him and his head rotated wildly trying to get the best view of this new creature. He even reached out to touch the doggie when we let him. It was a very nice doggie, so tolerant of little hands learning to explore. It did make us a little sad that our own doggies couldn't be with us. They were so wonderful with babies and children and we miss them so much.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Random Tidbits from the Orphanage

The following will be of most interest to those yet to pick up their little ones (although you're all welcome to read it!):

We were given a new tin of milk-based formula (which we just polished off in the wee hours of this morning - the kid's been mowing these last few feedings!). It happens to be manufactured in Australia. We are thrilled that he's not lactose intolerant! We also did a small test drive of the formula we brought and we think he did fine with that too, although it's tough to tell with so many other changes too.

We were given a bottle for formula and one for water as well as one of the famous Taiwanese pacifiers that you can't get at home. The pacifier even had a clippee thing on it so it has less of a chance of getting lost. Very thoughtful! We also did a test drive of the bottle we brought and he's doing fine with that too.

We were given the option of having him changed into the outfit we brought before we saw him but we opted to have them bring him in whatever he was wearing.

In addition to the formula they gave us, we've been feeding him yogurt, papaya, congee (rice porridge) and tiny bits of fish. We think he will be a good eater - Daddy certainly hopes so!

We were given a supply of the famous "surfboard crackers" which our little guy loves. We found them in the Taiwan supermarkets in the baby section. They are teething crackers. We considered buying a boatload and bringing them back to the states, but thought better of it since they would probably resemble surfboard bits more than surfboards by the time they made it to the US.

If you're coming to pick up your baby, don't bother bringing any toys. The video cameras, your iPhone, your shoes, jewelry, the slippers in the hotel, empty water bottles, and any other adult items you have should be more than enough to keep him or her entertained. (only partly kidding here!) Paper is also a real crowd pleaser - particularly court documents!

We sent two care packages during our wait and saw no signs of the clothes we sent, or the toys. However, we did receive both disposable film cameras back along with one of the soft toys we sent and his blanket. Both the soft toy we sent and the blanket have been embroidered with his name on the tags. Very nice!

Sadly, we tried to get the film developed in Taipei (since taking undeveloped film through airports is a pain) and we didn't get a single picture :-(. Although the cameras had flash, it seems that no one bothered to use it. *sigh* On the other hand, we were given a DVD with photos of our baby that they took along the way. With so many babies they can only send a few update photos each month, but they do apparently take more, so that was a nice surprise.

Oh, and we seem to have successfully decoded the way to get your photos hanging in your baby's crib (we didn't see any other cribs that had photos in them). I think many people send a soft photo book. We used a very thin poly photo sleeve (4x6) that had been cut from a sheet that is used in photo albums and threaded a soft wide ribbon through it. We cut the ribbon to just the right length to hang from the crib just out of baby's reach (unless he stood up, which we were hoping he would be too young to do before he came home). We trimmed any sharp corners off the plastic. We put 2 photos of us in it, back to back. They used the ribbon to hang it from the crib. Of course, baby liked to chew on it, but we hope he was getting familiar with us while he was doing so.

(p.s. I wrote most of this post while still in Taiwan, so the time frame for polishing off the formula is a little off, for example - we finished that while still in Taiwan in the wee hours of our last day there.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Last night, Island Boy slept through the night for the first time since we've been home. I have to credit 2 things for this pleasure:

1) A strictly enforced minimal napping and sleep schedule during the previous two days (as painful as that was on all of us to implement) and
2) a switch from disposable diapers to cloth.

That second one was the major breakthrough and may need some see, we had been using Seventh Generation disposable diapers (better for the environment than regular disposables) during our travel. Yesterday, we finally made the switch to cloth (for a healthier baby and a better environment) - specifically to BumGenius cloth diapers. These diapers are just as easy to use as disposables and they are SUPER absorbent, so even when baby gets wet, he doesn't feel wet - thus, he is able to sleep comfortably through the night and theoretically, Mommy and Daddy can too. Hallelujah! They also happen to be kind of cute and, I'm sure, much more comfy to wear than plastic.

(No, I do not work for BumGenius, nor am I receiving any compensation for this post, so seriously...go buy some!!)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Home at Last

It's been a long journey, but after four countries, lots of planes, trains and taxis, and one really big souvenir, we are home. It felt good to sleep in our own bed and use tap water to brush our teeth. Ah, the little things that make this country great!

On the other hand, we already miss the food. Although the first thing you think about when you think about Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Taiwan may not be the food, it should rank right up there. We got Thai takeout last night. Not the same.

As for Island Boy, within the first 24 hours he was home he'd had his first doctor's visit and within the first 48 hours, he'd had his first excursion to the farmer's market. He's enjoying exploring the neighborhood and has even had his first trip to the driving range (it's never too early to start!).

Although he spent the first few days wanting to play all night and sleep all day, he is slowly adjusting to Pacific Daylight Time. Mommy and Daddy are doing the same.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Are we there yet?


We had our visit with AIT yesterday (AIT is the American Institute in Taiwan - Taiwan's version of an Embassy) to get Island Boy's Visa for travel to the US. In order to do so, we had to be interviewed to make sure the baby won't become a ward of the state if we can't support him. We were a little nervous. The place is crawling with security and we had to check all of our cameras (four of them), so didn't get any photos. There were FOUR families waiting for their appointments yesterday (most days there is one family at most) and it was fun to meet the other babies and parents while we waited.

We had a few tense moments when we were asked to review the paperwork for accuracy. Wouldn't you know it? We found an error. The physician that had performed Island Boy's medical exam decided that he had performed it in 2006. Really?! This for a boy born in 2007?? And this date appeared in THREE places!! I stared at the inaccurate date and held an internal debate on whether to say anything or not. Feeling there was no other choice, I went ahead and pointed it out. The very helpful gentleman processing our paperwork asked when we were planning to leave Taiwan and cringed a bit when I said "tomorrow". Yikes!! We waited nervously while he asked his boss whether the paperwork would have to be redone. Luckily, the physician signed the report with the correct date, so we were able to correct and initial the erroneous information. Whew! Next hurdle: the interview.

The boss was the person doing the interviews and when it finally came time for ours, Island Boy decided to have a meltdown. Perfect timing! Thankfully, this gentleman was also nicer than nice; the interview went smoothly, and we were told we could pick up his travel Visa today! Hurray!

New hat

The shopping starts. Irresistable! (and it is a little cold in Taipei)

Monday, November 05, 2007


We're doing great. The staff and volunteers at St Lucy's are really great. We had a nice time chatting with them and watching them play with Island Boy. He's really gentle and sweet and quiet. Of course, that changed when it was time to sleep. He had a few fits and starts -- he would fall asleep and then wake up in the crib and start crying -- um, nevermind about quiet part -- in full force. He finally fell asleep late in the night and woke up really hungry at 5 AM. After a bottle, he's been sleeping quietly since (it's about 9AM here.) We're letting sleeping baby lie.

Bath went well.

Dinner went OK.

Still working on that diaper thing.

Now what?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

'Twas the Night Before Pickup...

and all through our heads,
not a calm thought was stirring,
not even in bed!

The diaper bag was packed by the front door with care,
in hopes that our little one soon would be there.

Mommy and Daddy were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of Island Boy danced in their heads.

Daddy fussed a little and Mommy fussed a lot,
wondering what the two of them forgot.

Oh, diapers! Oh, wipees! Oh, sippee cups! Oh, toys!
Oh, blankies! Oh, bottles! Oh, lotions! Oh, boy!

They charged up the cameras and cleared off the cards,
and tried to relax but found it quite hard.

They were frightened and excited and worried that's true,
wondering what when he saw them he'd do.

They both knew the new day would bring them great joy,
since then they would meet their dear Island Boy.

As they dozed off to sleep on that last late late night,
they knew that tomorrow all things would be right.

What's this stuff for?

That's weird. This stuff just showed up. Anyone know what you do with these things?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Dao le...

(Mandarin for "We've arrived...")


Friday, November 02, 2007

In Training

Hubby and I have been in sleep deprivation training the last few nights. This morning we woke up at 4:30 am on purpose just to see the sunrise. We also haven't been sleeping very well since our hotels over the last few nights have had very unhelpful night lights (the night lights have been so powerful they made us think we missed sunrise when we woke up in the middle of the night). We're warming up for getting by on little sleep after pick up day!

We set out along the footpath to watch the Alishan sunrise at 4:45 am this morning and arrived around 45 minutes later. We were the first to arrive at the viewing spot (having been the only ones on the trail - most people take the train) and enjoyed a thermos of hot Alishan Oolong tea while we treasured the predawn silence and snapped some photos. Around 6:15, the sun was beginning to peek over the horizon and we could hear what sounded like a stampede approaching. As you can see from hubby's earlier post, it was a stampede and its leader was armed with a megaphone. Ahh, behold nature's wonders! People packed in like sardines for 15 minutes or so while Mr. Megaphone did his stand-up bit then the crowds dispersed to walk or ride down the mountain. Despite the crowds it was a lovely way to start the day.

Chillin' & Chowin'

We've been in four countries in the past three weeks. Since we arrived in Taiwan, we've managed to see some sights and catch up on some administrative and household tasks including such exciting yet necessary things such as laundry, catching up on blog posts delayed due to technical difficulties (see below to catch up on Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand and some other random bits) and buying SIM cards.

The SIM card buying process in Taipei was very interesting compared to Vietnam. When in Vietnam, we gave one of the hotel staff $5 and he ran down the street and returned with a SIM card for us. In Taipei, we had to go to the phone company, present TWO forms of picture ID and sign a detailed contract (written entirely in Chinese). Different. Very different!

While in Taipei we were extremely pleased with the hotel service. The staff at our hotel went beyond the call of duty to share local food tips with us and generally help us enjoy our visit to Taiwan. They, along with nearly everyone we've met in Taiwan, were all very friendly and very willing to indulge our Chinese. In fact, I've been quite surprised and pleased with my ability to communicate in Mandarin especially because I rarely practice with anyone other than my husband at home. We both find it very amusing that people will point to the Chinese character when we don't understand a word they are trying to say to us. While we do recognize a few characters, those characters tend to represent words we know fairly well, so pointing at the character typically isn't very helpful (although we think the opposite may be true with English).

As we've traveled south, the hotel staffs have been far less helpful and English versions of maps and newspapers have been a bit more difficult to find. By the way, the high speed train is so smooth you barely know it's moving! On the way to Alishan, we spent the night in Chiayi, gateway to Alishan and home of the famous Koji Pottery. We hit the night market there and the pottery museum (apparently visited mostly by local school children), but oddly enough, it was difficult to find pottery retail spots in the town (they ship most of it to Taipei). From what we could see, it doesn't seem like it's a major tourist destination, even for those headed to Alishan. We were fortunate enough to meet a local volunteer at the museum who kindly offered to drive us around the city in search of the pottery (to three different artists' workshops) before we had to catch our train to Alishan. See what I mean about the people being nice?

We're currently sequestered in Alishan, far from anything other than nature's beauty and all of the other tourists here to enjoy it. While the views are stunning, they come and go quickly as clouds move in and out of the area. We think we pretty much covered all of the area hiking trails this morning. Sadly the foot massage area is closed for renovations and we were already booked for two nights. At least the food is good and they have high speed internet access in the rooms!

The Definition of True Love

Near the beginning of our trip and on our way to Hanoi from Taipei, I was upgraded to Business Class. Unfortunately, there was only one seat available so hubby was going to have to ride in coach. While the gate agent tried to find room for hubby in Business Class, it was full, so I requested that I be moved back to coach to sit with my hubby. The gate agent was dumbfounded. He simply couldn’t believe that someone would relinquish a Business Class seat to be with her spouse. I wouldn’t dream of traveling any other way.


Yes, that's a loudspeaker in his hand.

Sunrise at Alishan

2 to go...

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Some people you meet you will never forget. We have met two such people on this trip so far and expect to meet one more (can you guess who that is? ;-).

The first of these people was our driver in Vietnam. In addition to being our driver, he was also our bike mechanic, part-time photographer, medic, snack and water boy, comedian and general helper. Although this man spoke very little English he communicated very well. He was passionate about his work and his country and loved to indulge us with local food and stories (explained through our English-speaking guide and through the use of elaborate gestures). He also had quite an eye as a photographer. You could tell this man was living his life exactly as he wanted to. He has his own business renting bikes and supporting bike tours because he loves cycling and sharing that passion with people from around the world. If you take a bike trip in Vietnam, this is the man you want in the support vehicle.

The second person we won’t soon forget was our guide in Cambodia. This man is one of the most cheerful we’ve ever known. This might not be surprising except that he bears visible scars, including the loss of sight in his right eye, of numerous incidences of his torture after being captured by the Khmer Rouge. He also lost 10 family members, reducing his family from 14 to 4 during the reign of the Khmer Rouge (the entire country lost an estimated 3 million people out of a prior population of 14 million to the hands of the KR). He was a delightful person with many talents ranging from tour guide (and teacher of tour guides) to schoolteacher (math and music) to musician to cook and many more. He even started his own school and orphanage. Everyone in town seems to know him and he has a smile and a kind word for everyone. If you can live through what he has lived through and still accomplish so much and be so cheerful, most of the rest of us have no excuses.

New York New York

Taipei has been a welcome change from the other Asian stops we've made on this trip. The best part is that you aren't besieged by touts and hawkers asking you to buy things and surrounding you like fresh prey if you accidentally exhibit the slightest interest in their wares.
Overall, the city is very modern and quite easy to get around with an excellent subway system. While there is still an abundance of scooters, traffic generally obeys clearly defined rules like stop lights and lane lines (sort of).
There are tons of street vendors selling all kinds of tasty food including roasted chestnuts.
While there are language difficulties, there are enough people that speak or understand a little English -- combined with our poor but improving Mandarin -- that we can get around reasonably well. And, the food in Taipei is excellent as the Taiwanese are very food obsessed.
Really, it's a lot like New York -- roasted chestnuts, crazy traffic, and people speaking a strange language that we can sometimes understand.
(picture of Taipei 101, the world's tallest skyscraper, for now, taken from the front of the "New York New York" shopping mall.)